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A Closer Examination of Distracted Driving

This won't be the first time we've talked about distracted driving, and it probably won't be the last. Not unlike issues of driving under the influence and neglecting to share the road with pedestrians and cyclists, we write about distracted driving multiple times because it is important and because we believe education can save lives. In this case, a unique perspective on a common threat caught the attention of our Panama City distracted driving attorney and our legal team. Instead of focusing on accident statistics or legislative efforts, this study uses neurocognitive science and related performance measures to show just how dangerous various forms of distracted driving can be to the driver and others on the road.

AAA Applies New Approach to Examining Behind-the-Wheel Distractions

In the opening to "What's on Your Mind?" (a piece by Tom Vanderbilt in AAA's Going Places Magazine), the author has David Strayer, a professor of cognition and neural science, reflect on driving with his children in their younger years and chastising them for making faces at passing drivers. Strayer recalled a time when he began to tell them, as he had before, that they should never distract a driver. However, this time the driver hadn't noticed the kids at all; he was too focused on a cellphone conversation. These days, AAA estimates 1 in 10 drivers in the U.S. is on the phone at any given moment, the highest rate globally.

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety asked Strayer, who has long examined the issue of distracted driving, to apply an approach from aviation psychology to distracted driving. It uses a 5-point scale to assess how much a given task or piece of technology affects a driver using data from both the road and a simulator. Jake Nelson, the Director of Traffic Safety and Research for AAA, explains that the researchers began by noting the base level of mental effort required by driving and assigning it a Category 1 rating.

Ranking Different Distractions

Next, Strayer looked at what happens when other activities are layered on top of that basic task. Strayer and his team reached several conclusions on attention demands and distraction levels. Audio books, as any book-lover might anticipate, demanded more mental work than typical radio broadcast. Contrary to what people often assume, phone conversations rated the same level of distraction whether on a hand-held phone or using a hands-free device. The use of "speech-to-text" technology rated a Category 3 distraction, one that demands more mental work that listening to the radio and is more distracting that a phone conversation. Strayer noted that the difference may be the lack of "backchannel" communication, i.e. the cues we get from a conversational partner. The study participants also performed "Operation Span" exercises; a series of tasks involving memory and math tasks designed to reach the highest level workload.

The next question - What real world distraction might approach the Operation Span demands? Strayer referenced some of the information and entertainment features on new, higher-end, automobiles. Something like making movie reservations, which requires listening to available titles, finding a time and location, reserving tickets, and giving your credit card details, ranks at least a Category 3 and Strayer suspects it might push into Category 4.

Moving Ahead: Applying Lessons, Preventing Crashes, Protecting Victims

AAA is working to educate the public about the risk of "inattention blindness," especially with the ever-increasing complexity of driving distractions. The group supports bans on texting and a ban on all wireless devices for those 18 and under. Beyond that, AAA asks drivers to exercise personal responsibility and is not ready to call for a ban on other “infotainment” options. Overall, the group reminds drivers that "doing more than one thing at a time is not possible without some or all tasks suffering. When a driver's performance operating a vehicle suffers, it's a recipe for disaster."

Our Panama City accident lawyer applauds AAA for examining driver distraction and for using a scientific approach to confirm the dangers we'd long suspected and the trends we've observed in our practice. Along with AAA, we hope drivers will exercise personal responsibility and refrain from engaging in behind-the-wheel distractions. If another driver failed to heed this warning and left you injured or claimed the life of one of your loved ones, please call our Panama City distracted driving victims' law firm. We can help you pursue money damages for your injury or your loss.


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